Bradley K. Wrenn, Justin Jain, and Dave Johnson
in The Lapsburgh Layover
(© Ben Arons)
Bradley K. Wrenn, Justin Jain, and Dave Johnson
in The Lapsburgh Layover
(© Ben Arons)
Surprisingly smart goofball humor gives way to sophomoric silliness in The Berserker Residents' The Lapsburgh Layover, now playing at Ars Nova. As inventively directed by Oliver Butler (who also helped develop the piece), it inspires both guffaws and groans.

The production begins in a decidedly offbeat way. Before entering the theater, audience members are led into the basement of the theater, where they pass through baggage claim (scenic designer Lisi Stoeesel's eye for whimsicality delights throughout) at the airport in the tiny fictional country of Lapsburgh.

Once theatergoers have made it into the performance space proper, they learn that they are in a citadel for culture in the country -- a mystery dinner theater -- where four natives (co-writers Justin Jain, Dave Johnson, Leah Walton and Bradley K. Wreen) have prepared a special show for their foreign guests, who are stranded due to a malfunctioning plane.

The entertainment turns out to be a bizarre amalgam of film noir-inspired drama -- the play they choose to offer is Detective Mickey and the Case of the What Happened at the Club Regard -- folk festival, and tourism promotion schpeel (The quartet's "PowerPoint" presentation about the attractions in Lapsburgh proves to be gut-bustingly funny.)

The laughs provided by the badly written (purposefully) mystery about a private eye (a deliciously dry Jonson) looking into a series of bizarre murders at a nightclub are almost as hearty. The creators mangle standard B-movie dialogue hilariously ("I'd spent the last 8 hours on a tail job in the ham-packing district.") and riff on tropes of the genre to gleeful effect.

Amusingly, the mustachioed and basso Bradley K. Wrenn plays the femme fatale while Walton, playing the Evita-like first lady of the country, serves as the club's mysterious owner. The indefatigable Jain takes on a variety of roles with aplomb, ranging from the Peter Lorre-esque bartender at the club to a sweet young ingénue who wanders into the club looking for work.

The arrival of this character also coincides with the unraveling of the show, which has also included ominous tremors and rumbles (an excellent soundscape from M.L. Dogg). Ultimately, audiences learn that the seismic shocks that have caused plaster dust to fall from the ceiling have been caused by the return of the country's worst enemy. And during the final frantic moments of the play, audiences are forced to learn how to defend themselves in a true Lapsburghian fashion.

There's an improvisational, Monty Python-like randomness to this section of the play, which simply feels at odds with the more carefully constructed inanity that has preceded. And it's really difficult to not wish that the co-creators and performers had found a more elegant way to conclude their giddy romp overseas.